January 2017 | Sanghamitra Bhowmik

Safety is a state of mind

Employee accountability and benchmarked safety practices have helped Tata Chemicals keep its people and environment safe

Tata Chemicals put safety, health and environment (SHE) on the high-priority list in 2000, the goal being to work towards achieving the ‘zero harm’ target. To get to this ambitious target, the company has a board-level corporate social responsibility, safety and sustainability (CSS) committee that focuses on the multiple challenges involved.

Following the rules can make a difference in improving safety standards

Tata Chemicals’ SHE policies and processes are aligned to those of the Tata group’s, with leeway being given to different company sites to modify their approach in line with local requirements. What is striking here is the commitment of the company’s senior management to tackling SHE issues. Tata Chemicals gets required resource support and direction from the CSS committee to enable sites to achieve their targets.

“Incidents and safety performances at Tata Chemicals are reviewed by the company’s chief executive, who often talks to our employees about these incidents and what best can be done to avoid them,” says M Ravindranath, chief safety engineer and project officer.

On implementation, Tata Chemicals has a slew of checks and balances. There are regular internal and external audits and cross-functional and cross-country audits are also conducted. These audits help the company in sharing knowledge, experience and learning.

Tata Chemicals goes the extra mile on benchmarking — it is studying Tata Power’s contractors’ safety management plan to create something similar — and the company follows a variety of guidelines, among them Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series, Responsible Care and British Safety Council, to ensure continual improvement in its SHE outcomes.

Like other organisations in its industry, the company has to live with the twin risks of chemical hazards and occupational safety and health. Then there’s the ever-changing characteristics of Tata Chemicals’ assets, which are affected by ageing, atmospheric conditions — proximity to sea in Mithapur, Gujarat in India, for instance — the nature of raw materials, etc. This poses a challenge to the safety of not just the assets but also to those involved with their care.

The engagement of employees, in the circumstances, is crucial for Tata Chemicals. “We train, mentor and coach employees, with special responsibilities for those in key positions and in middle management,” says Mr Ravindranath. “Our employees are empowered to highlight any unsafe act, even at the cost of production, and we ensure that the management supports them. The aim is to create a culture of interdependence and responsibility.”

Custom-made solutions
To further encourage this sense of responsibility and to deal with issues at its many facilities, Tata Chemicals prompts each site to interpret its own challenges, be it with respect to people, the environment, location or emissions and effluents. There are sites that find their own solutions and in some cases cross-functional teams work together to provide the answer.

The company’s biggest challenge remains behavioural safety, considering how tough it is to change mindsets and habits conditioned by time. “We conduct behavioural change training and we have witnessed a lot of positivity,” adds Mr Ravindranath. “Over the years, we have witnessed a transformation from the traditional approach of safety being associated with safety managers to a model of collective ownership, with individual empowerment and accountability.”

When it comes to the environment, Tata Chemicals continuously evaluates the risk involved and puts in place the necessary process to tackle it. Environmental considerations are taken into account right at the design stage. Government and environmental guidelines are followed and the company has disaster management and contingency plans at the ready.

Employees being taken through a safety drill

Tata Chemicals uses the ‘green manufacturing index’ to monitor and measure various parameters on energy, waste, water, green cover, etc. The index is used by the company to reduce its carbon footprint and improve processes in water consumption, energy utilisation and the like. Contingency plans are in-built and those working in hazardous areas are constantly trained to deal with emergency situations.

Each Tata Chemicals site has programmes relevant to its environment and its people. Mithapur has an innovative safety excellence programme — ‘surakshajyot’ or safety flame — to review the hazards and risks of all activities through physical observation, and to ensure effective implementation of mitigation plans. In all 43,000 activities have been assessed by cross-functional teams and these cover the entire chemical complex. Specialised safety training for employees focuses on behavioural aspects and workplace culture.

Benchmark behaviour
Babrala, the site of the company’s fertiliser complex in Uttar Pradesh in India, is working on the implementation of ‘process safety management’ (PSM) elements that are in line with DuPont and American Institute of Chemical Engineers guidelines. Considering the risks associated with gas and ammonia handling at Babrala, a systematic approach on PSM is essential. This ensures the application of engineering, management skills and operational discipline to identify, understand and control process hazards and prevent injuries and incidents.

At Haldia (in West Bengal, India), continual improvement on safety and health is sought to be achieved through ‘SRESHTO’ (securing reliability of equipment and structures at Haldia through team spirit and obsession). This initiative addresses the issue of ageing assets and equipment reliability to ensure a safe working environment. The objective is to make the cultural transformation of institutionalising and strengthening systems through robust planning, scheduling and quality control, and by improving coordination among line functions.

To reinforce the importance of safe behaviour, Tata Chemicals Europe has a programme called ‘safety amnesty’, under which employees can come forward and explain the risks they took, and got away with. The unsafe conditions and practices thus identified are analysed. Based on the outcome of safety amnesty, a new safety communication strategy — tagged ‘safety is a state of mind’ — was launched. This includes video messages, posters and an email campaign.

Asset protection
Tata Chemicals North America (TCNA) has launched RAMPup (reliability through asset management and production OEE) to enhance the integrity and reliability of its assets. An initiative known as ‘management by walking around’ is also conducted at TCNA to ensure safety improvements. There are other such programmes too, including ‘looking for trouble’, which is about identifying potential hazard areas.

Tata Chemicals’ Magadi operations in Kenya has its own set of safety improvement programmes. This geography has four safety sub committees led by senior leaders and they put emphasis on learning and sharing, risk assessment of tasks, and the engagement of the workforce in safety protocols and procedures. That’s of a piece with the Tata Chemicals commitment to keeping its people and the world in its vicinity safe and more.

This article was first published in the October - December 2016 issue of Tata Review. Read the ebook here